Skip header

Maritime heritage

South Tyneside has a long and proud tradition of seafaring, shipbuilding and lifesaving and a world renowned reputation for excellence in marine engineering and seamanship.


The Tyne Lifeboat

The first purpose built lifeboat was built in the Borough in 1789, and South Shields is home to Britain's second oldest preserved lifeboat, the Tyne, which is located at the Wouldhave Memorial on Ocean Road.

Her crews saved 1028 stricken mariners in six decades of service in the 19th century.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade

A short distance away from the Tyne Lifeboat is the headquarters of the Volunteer Life Brigade whose members have saved countless lives since 1866.

They were one of the very first voluntary life brigades and they were the first to save life from a shipwreck using the breeches buoy.

Their Grade 2 listed Watch House, situated on the South Pier, is a building of immense architectural and historical interest and contains a unique collection of shipwreck material, lifesaving equipment and local history.

Find out more about when you can visit and lots more at South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Lawe Top Beacon

The Lawe Top Beacon, overlooking the Tyne at the far north of South Shields' North Marine Park, was erected as a navigational aid in 1932 by John Turnbull and cost around £60.

The beacon and its twin companion opposite replaced the 18th century structures and complement the High and Low Lights across the Tyne in North Shields.

Souter Lighthouse

Souter Lighthouse opened in 1871 and was at the time, the most advanced in the world. It was the first lighthouse to be specifically constructed for electric illumination by carbon arc lamps.

Today the property is operated by the National Trust and visitors can explore the Engine Room and find out how the lighthouse operates through video, displays and navigational equipment.

Find out more about Souter Lighthouse

The Groyne Lighthouse

Next to the Little Haven Hotel at the mouth of the River Tyne stands the Groyne lighthouse.

It's also famous as being featured on the logo of Barbour, the world famous outdoor clothing specialist from South Tyneside.

North East Maritime Trust

As well as restoring old boats it is the Trust's aim to keep the wooden boat building skills alive on the Tyne before they disappear.

The Trust is very proud that the boats they restore are not "museum pieces" but fully functioning boats which will be used on the river, where they belong.

Members of the public can visit the workshops at select times. Please contact the Trust to check times before you travel.

Contact details 

North East Maritime Trust
2-3 Wapping Street
South Shields
NE33 1LQ

Tel: 0191 447 8814
Web: North East Maritime Trust

Smugglers and legends

The area is awash with many tales of smugglers and legends.

John the Jibber

The ghost of John the Jibber is said to haunt the area around Marsden Rock and Bay and if you are quiet you may just hear his moans and groans.

He betrayed his fellow smugglers to the Customs Men and for this suffered a slow death suspended from a bucket half way down the cliff face.

Dolly Peel

Another famous legend is Dolly Peel (1783 - 1857). She was a fish wife, poet, story teller and smuggler and even served in the Napoleonic wars.

She lived in Shadwell Street in South Shields and is famed for hiding her husband from the notorious press gangs.

A statue to commemorate her memory overlooks the River Tyne, a few minutes walk east of the Ferry Landing in South Shields.

Find out more about Dolly Peel at Public art

Mill Dam

Built in the 1860s The Customs House is a listed building overlooking the Tyne and has been transformed into a thriving arts and cultural venue. Find out more about The Customs House

Beside The Customs House is the Merchant Seaman monument, which was unveiled by Countess Mountbatten of Burma on 19 September 1990 in memory of the merchant seamen who sailed from South Shields and lost their lives in World War II.

Maritime Art

The town's rich seafaring past is reflected in the evocative Spirit of South Tyneside at Market Dock, overlooking the River Tyne.

Nearby is Fleet, a collection of seven stainless steel collier ships in full sail. The brightly polished ships reflect patterns of both moving sky and water and give the impression of a fleet heading out to sea.

Both works are by the same artist, Irene Brown.

Find out more about these at Public art

More information on local history

For more details on local history in the area vist South Tyneside Council: Local history and heritage

South Shields Museum in South Shields Town Centre is also worth a visit, celebrating local history in the area.